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International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Sixth Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture


The sixth session of the Governing Body of the 136-nation International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is to be held at the FAO in Rome from October 5 – 9, 2015.

To stay on track with the Treaty’s fundamental objectives – sustainable agriculture and food security for all - the agenda of the biennial meeting will include a discussion on expanding the list of plant species in the Treaty’s global gene pool. Most of the main crops such as maize, rice and potatoes are already included in the Multilateral System– a gene pool that accounts for 80 percent of our plant-based food needs. But there are other important crops still excluded. Although over the millennia humans have relied on as many as 10,000 plant species for food, monoculture and an expanding world population means there are now just 150 crops under cultivation at a global level. However there is an abundance of genetic diversity even within those 150 crops and their wild relatives that can be exchanged to develop more robust and productive varieties. Climate change means there is a need to use the genetic material available to make crop varieties that are more tolerant of shocks such as cold winters or hot summers, floods, drought or pests.

Seed banks need support outside

Whilst seed banks serve as a safety deposit for future food security, varieties also need to be tested and propagated in the fields. No country is self-sufficient in crop diversity. For example, the potato, an important staple in many parts of the world originates in Peru, which nowadays still harbors fundamental diversity that plant breeding needs. “As we search for more pest and drought tolerant varieties to stay productive with the new food security challenges, that interconnection is even more important,” said Dr Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty. Delegates to the meeting will be asked to support the expansion and improvement of the global crop gene pool managed by the Treaty.

Cause to subscribe to

Treaty signatories at the Governing Body will also negotiate a subscription system for users of crop diversity that will generate predictable and regular income for farmers conserving and further adapting seed varieties on farm. The Treaty already operates a mechanism by which beneficiaries of the gene pool and other donors contribute to a fund to support farmers in the developing world to adapt their crops to the changing climate and conditions. This includes farmers in different parts of the world who are making their crop materials available. More than 20 million USD have been provided so far to directly help 340,000 farmers in 55 countries. Several donors have indicated they will pledge more funds at next week’s Governing Body meeting. “Researchers and breeders will need access to more material to contribute to new varieties, but farmers in developing countries ensuring their dynamic conservation will also need additional financial support for their important work”, said Dr Bhatti.

More for Farmers’ Rights

The Governing Body will also call on signatories to step up their work in protecting and implementing at national level the rights of farmers, many of them smallholders in developing countries, whose traditional knowledge and breeding skills means they are the harbingers of a rich biodiversity in food crops and their wild relatives. The Treaty proposes, with donor support, to assist in building capacity for Farmers’ Rights.

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